Monthly Archives: December 2010

Hike and Sketch at Bullfrog Lake


Tomahawk Slough winter sketch

33°F  cloudy, breeze
orange and red trail

Hiking today seems like a workout, for I am wearing regular hiking boots and not snow shoes. There are several inches of snow on the ground. I love to hear the “crunch, crunch, crunch” sound with every step.

As I hike the red trail which is much narrower than the other trails, with a canopy of vines and shrubs, surprised, I notice several robins (maybe 30-40) all around me in the tree tops. I stand still to listen to that familiar short noise they make…it’s not a call, it’s not a chirp… well, maybe it’s a real low  fast chirp. The sound I always hear in spring and summer. I always thought that robins migrated further south in my state (Illinois) in the winter because I never see them. Today, they were all around me.

Suddenly, I hear a blue jay make an alert call! In a frantic rush, the whole flock of robins fly west in an instant. Oh I wish you could have heard that magical sound of a whole flock fleeting at once and you are in the middle of it!!!! It’s like a flying stampede of horses….such power! such force!

*weak in the knees*

About 30 seconds later, one lone Cooper’s Hawk appears with nothing in his talons. Unsatisfied with his disappointing find of no birds, he flies off. To my surprise instantly four chickadees greet me above my head. They were hiding.


Here is what the red trail looks like. It’s more narrow than it appears to be from the picture.


Near the end of my trail is Tomahawk Slough. This is what I decided to sketch, however I must admit I did it at home from my computer for the winds picked up significantly and I was chilled. I love how the snow looks on top of the slough.


What an awesome structure this Queen Anne’s Lace is in the winter, dolloped with snow. This will definitely be a sketch or maybe a full-blown painting in the near future.

I hope you enjoyed this short hike at Bullfrog Lake. remember, you can’t get cabin fever if you go out in the winter! Try a short visit in the wood.


Christmas Bird Watercolors


Christmas Blue Jay Watercolor

Lately, I’ve been trying to loosen up with my watercolors. The background of the blue jay represents what I’m talking about. I feel sometimes, as if I am too stiff while painting with watercolors. I mean, that’s their true character…loose and free, and so let them be, loose and free! I have to remind myself…stop being a control freak!

“Christmas Blue Jay”
click here to purchase original (it will take you to the available wc page)
click here to purchase prints or cards


Male Cardinal Watercolor

I painted this on Christmas morning, after the family opened presents and there was once again a calm in the house. My scanner doesn’t do this piece justice, as it cannot pick up the most delicate pale blue colors. It is however a good example of a loose background. I wet the sky in certain spots and tilted the paper to let the pigment run. That was much fun! Run little watercolor, run!

“Male Cardinal in Winter”
click here to purchase original (it will take you to the available wc page)
click here to purchase prints or cards

Winter Sunset Sketch

Winter Sunset Sketch

17°F  icy cold wind
Centennial Park

As daylight quickly slips away, a golden glow desperately hangs near the horizon. Purples and blues creep in behind me, shadows start to disappear, and the night takes over.
The retention pond is nearly iced-covered except for a small round opening which contains many mallards and geese, noisily competing for some aquatic real estate.
A strong icy wind from the North-West stings my face and makes me head towards my car.


Here is the actual photo. I painted this at home in the comfort of warmth! I went a little crazy on the thickness of the foreground tree….but that’s okay.

Winter although harsh, is so beautiful especially near sunset when soft pastel colors emerge!

Let’s Paint Winter Grasses!


There’s something wonderful about winter grasses. Could it be that bright warm golden glow? Could it be the way they sound bending in the wind? Could it be the way they poke out of the snow? Yes, all of these above make winter grasses so special. This picture was taken on a hike last winter in Spears Woods. Let’s get going and paint winter grasses in pastels with a watercolor underwash.


Step 1: I am using an 8×10 Ampersand Pastelbord. Take a charcoal pencil and make a quick sketch.


Step 2: Turn the board upside-down. We are going to paint the background with watercolors and we want the colors to blend. Gravity is going to pull the paint down, so use the lightest color first. Starting with the horizon line, paint manganese blue. In the middle paint with french ultramarine and at the bottom paint a mauve color.


Step 3: While the board is still wet, paint the distant trees by mixing burnt umber and french ultramarine blue watercolor paints. Start at the horizon line and paint downward making flicking stokes at the end. Don’t paint straight across, make a scalloped edge to represent various tree sizes. Dry the board with a hair dryer.


Step 4: After the board is dry turn it right side up. Now paint the bottom. I like to add color under my snow, so I used some blue on my palette and also alizarin crimson. Where the patches of grass will be, take your background tree color and paint spots in the snow. We are done with watercolors. Moving on to pastels….


Step 5: POW POW POW! Look how the pastel color almost jumps off the page! Awesome! I am using Rembrandt pastels; take a dark sky blue and start at the top. Don’t cover every little inch, let some of the purple watercolor wash show through. In the middle of the sky use a medium sky blue pastel and closer to the horizon, use a very light sky blue. Where the sky touches the top of the distant trees, go in and out, suggesting some branches.


Step 6: Now, I could have stopped at just a blue sky (the easy way out), but my picture has terrific altocumulus clouds and those clouds typically mean changing weather within a day and I want to capture that! Altocumulus clouds are not the easiest thing in the world to paint, but is easy going to move you up to the next level? Is easy going to challenge you? Will it make you a stronger artist?
No way, it will not.
We will always move forward no matter what challenges we face. We will not slide backwards. If we fail, we will learn what not to do next time and because we learned something, we can not fail. Do you see!?! You can not fail.

For the clouds, I am using a medium-light purple/gray pastel (see picture). Make small circular clouds in the sky. Space them out a bit so the blue of the sky shows through. Next take a light purple/gray pastel and paint the top and middle of each cloud. Finally, take the light blue pastel for the sky and paint the top of each cloud.


Here is how the sky turned out. Just a bunch of circular clouds and in the distance, horizontal lines. Nice.


Step 7: Take a dark blue pastel pencil and draw in some trees. The ones to the left are further back and will be behind the grasses. The one to the right is closer to the foreground.


Step 8: Paint some oak leaves. I used a dark blue pastel for the base color and then a dark burgundy pastel on top. If I don’t paint these dark colors first, the bright leaves will not show up. We need contrast.


Step 9: Paint a light burgundy pastel on the tree. Don’t cover the whole thing, let some dark spots show through.


Step 10: Now for those fantastic grasses! Just like the oak tree, I need contrast. If I started painting with a yellow grass color, the grasses would not pop out. I need something dark behind it. I took the same dark burgundy pastel that I used for the tree and painted in a patch of grass. Then I took the light burgundy pastel and made some thin sweeping lines. Using the lightest blue for the sky, I paint some snow on the bottom.


Step 11: Take a golden tan pastel and make some more sweeping lines over the burgundy grass. Now doesn’t that stand out? Looks great.


Step 12 Final: Make some more grasses using the same steps as before on the right side of the painting. Fill in the rest of the snow with medium and lightest blue pastel. To add some sparkle, paint a few oak leaves pure orange. Yesssssss!

“Blazing Winter Grasses”

This painting will be on display at the LaGrange Art Gallery Jan-Feb 2011.

I hope you enjoyed this free step-by-step pastel demonstration on how to paint winter grasses. Remember, if you try this yourself, you can upload your results on the Let’s Paint Nature Facebook page.

Smallest American Falcon Sketch plus Sound

Male American Kestrel watercolor sketch


European Kestrel call (similar to American but lower pitch) by Dobroide from Free Sound Project.

Leaving work early one day last week, I stepped outside and something flew over my head at high speed shouting, “yip, yip, yip, yip, yip, yip”. What the heck? I ran to my car which just happened to have binoculars in it (that never happens) and there he was, a strikingly beautiful male American Kestrel.He perched on top of a pole from the roof and flicked his tail up and down, up and down, constantly.

The kestrel is the smallest American falcon, about the size of a robin. What’s the difference between a falcon and hawk? Size and the way they kill their prey; falcons are small and are able to break the neck’s of prey with their beak, hawks are large and break necks with their talons. Winter is an excellent time to spot raptors due to the bare trees!


On the right hand side of this page, you may have noticed a Facebook icon for “Let’s Paint Nature”. This is a public page. My goal is to allow you, the viewer, to upload a scan or photo of a step-by-step painting that you have tried. I want to see them!!! After clicking the “like” button, on the Let’s Paint Nature Facebook page, write a note and click “attach”, after uploading complete, click “let’s paint nature + others” and you will be able to see your painting.

One rule: paintings must either be a step-by-step or nature related (landscape, flora, fauna, etc). No portrait paintings and no nudity. Inappropriate material will be discarded.

Let’s see your nature paintings!